Blue Zones by Dan Buettner: this book makes me want to actually make friends (but not stress about it)

February’s book club book was Blue Zones by Dan Buettner. And like January, I was both the only person to read the book and also the only person still in the book club. Also like January, I let someone else pick the book because I thought it might encourage them to actually read it. The acquaintances-soon-to-be-friends both officially bailed on the whole thing. Some variation of “I’m busy” seemed to be the problem.

Quick rant: if you’re too busy for book club, your priorities are wrong. If you’re too busy to follow through with your commitments, your priorities are wrong. If you’re too busy to nurture your relationships, your priorities are wrong. Am I right?

But I read Blue Zones because I’m committed to this book club, whether or not it technically still exists. 2018 Ashley commits and shows up. You can count on that.

The people of the Blue Zones would agree. Social relationships are a key factor in supporting longevity. That means we’re friends now. I need you. It’s science.

A little background, before I dive into another rant, which is what these book club book reviews end up being: the Blue Zones are the places in the world with the highest proportions of centenarians. It all started as a project in the early 2000s (I think?), funded by National Geographic. The goal was to figure out WTF made people live so long in these random and far off places of the Earth. This book examines the cultural characteristics, lifestyle habits, and diets of a bunch of old people, and tries to string together the commonalities so that we, the youth-seeking readers, may gain some insight into a long life.

And it delivered! Here’s what I gathered.

First of all, be vegan. Not really, but be about as close to vegan or vegetarian as you can, and only consume animal products that are from your farm or at least local and minimally processed. You could also read The China Study to come to that conclusion (an excellent read). But it’s 2018, so this kind of nutrition knowledge should be common sense by now, right? Or do I live in a vegan bubble of my own creation? Doesn’t everyone more or less agree that meat and cheese in large quantities are bad? Yet for some reason–and stay with me here even if you feel insulted– Atkins (the nutrition “expert” who literally died young from a fucking heart attack after following his own advice) is now dressed up as Paleo and Keto, and fat people everywhere rejoice in drinking butter coffee and eating organic grass-fed steak at each meal. Cocaine is also great for weight loss. I’ve never done it, but I assume it’s also more fun and faster. It might even be cheaper. It’s definitely better for the environment. Did I just condone cocaine? Yikes.

Second, live a low-stress life by engaging in activities like yoga, Tai chi, meditation, or just straight up chillin’. I like this one. One of my 2018 personal missions is to chill the fuck out and take it easy, two things I’m historically not great at. It’s why I’m limiting my MBA to the slowest possible pace of one class per quarter and accepting that I will never have a life-changing Miracle Morning (a book whose rating ought to be the inverse of its Amazon reviews, omg that book sucks). Instead of trying to “do it all,” I make it my mission to be as “unbusy” as possible. For example, one of the only social events I had scheduled on my calendar in February was this book club meeting, and not even that happened! But low stress isn’t just about carving out free time and managing priorities. It’s about not stressing in general, and accepting life as it comes at you. It’s an attitude. A lifestyle.

Third–and by now I’m kind of losing interest in itemizing everything Blue Zones said because summarizing an entire book isn’t as fun as reading it and this isn’t a high school English class–is to have a strong social circle. This is where I struggle.

It’s not just that my book club never shows up to its meetings, it’s that I don’t make much of an effort to socialize outside of my husband and cats. I don’t have many strong social bonds and that’s never bothered me as much as it does now because if I did, I might live longer. And living longer is something I’d like to do because the longer you live, the more you get to experience and the more birthday cake you get to eat. Yet, I’d almost always rather be alone than with someone else. I wish I wasn’t like this, but I just don’t have high social needs. So fuck. See my dilemma? I do enjoy people, in one-on-one settings, but I think I might be too “particular” to appreciate everyone the way I’d like to. It’s not that “my standards are high” or that I think I’m better than everyone (because people aren’t arranged in hierarchies; we’re more like laterally spread across a range of neutral traits), it’s that one important thing I look for in a friend is a strong tendency toward conspiracy theorist. I love conspiracy theorists. They’re so fun and paranoid. But they don’t get out much.

Ok, that devolved. Let’s get back to the book.

Blue Zones was worth the read. It inspired me to keep up my healthy habits like eating plants and walking every day, and it encouraged me to consider reaching back out to my book club for another meeting next month.

I got stoned one day in 2009 and had a vision that I’d live to 135. I also believe in self-fulfilling prophecies. Now that I know the secret to longevity, I really need this social book club to pan out.

Want more book suggestions? Look here.


Wife, yogi, and cat mama living in the SF Bay Area.

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